Family adopts Marine dog that was with their son when he was killed

Marine dog Dino with his current handler, Sgt. Jonathan Overland, and relatives of Staff Sgt. Christopher Diaz, Dino's former handler, who was killed in Afghanistan. The Diaz family will take Dino home to El Paso.
(Tony Perry/Los Angeles Times)

CAMP PENDLETON - In a brief but poignant ceremony Saturday, a bomb-sniffing dog was declared retired and officially adopted by the family of his Marine handler who was killed in Afghanistan.

Dino, 6, a Belgian malinois, was adopted by the family of Staff Sgt. Christopher Diaz, who was 27 when he was killed in September 2011 while deployed in Helmand province.

Dino was with Diaz during the deployment but was uninjured.

“I don’t think that it will decrease any of the pain we feel,” Diaz’s father, Salvador Diaz, a former Marine, said of the adoption. “He’s not going to replace Christopher but he’ll give us something that Christopher loved, the Marine Corps.”


Diaz’s mother, Sandra, her voice cracking, said that, “It’s going to be helpful - we’ll have something to hold on to.”

In El Paso, Dino will have a large backyard and a swimming pool, she said. The family has no other dogs.

“Dino will be our baby,” Sandra Diaz said.

Born and trained in Israel, Dino takes commands in Hebrew but also understands English, said Sgt. Jonathan Overland, who took over as Dino’s handler after Diaz was killed.

Diaz and Dino had worked together at Twentynine Palms before deploying to Afghanistan. The two developed a bond.

That bond allowed the two “to be very effective doing their job on the streets of Afghanistan,” Salvador Diaz said.

One of the family’s prized possessions is a picture sent by their son from Afghanistan showing him and Dino.

To let the Diaz family adopt Dino, the Marine Corps needed approval from the secretary of the Navy. The law permits such an adoption if it will help a family with the grieving process and if the dog is considered a good candidate for adoption.

Dino had to pass a test developed by specialists at the military dog training school at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to make sure that he did not suffer the canine equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder after his combat experience.

The test showed that Dino has the right temperament to be adopted, said Rich Landgrebe, operations manager for the Marine working-dog program.

Along with Diaz’s parents, another half a dozen relatives from Southern California came to the ceremony at the dog-training facility here.

Overland, who knew Diaz and has his own bond with Dino, said he will miss Dino but added, “I know it’s where he belongs, where he’ll be happiest.”